The voice actors are bolstered by some funny, funny writing. Mike Stemmle and Sean Clark can flat-out write dialog, and have crafted enough jokes to keep things moving nicely. If you don't find a particular joke funny, wait a few moment and another will be along. I laughed my way through most of the game, undoubtedly startling the downstairs neighbors. I especially appreciated the running joke of how all of the pirate inhabitants of Lucre, Melee, and Jambalaya Islands found Australia to be a funny name for an island.
The puzzles are more of a mixed bag. The Monkey Island series has always had crazy puzzles, ones which don't always make much logical sense. Escape from Monkey Island isn't any different. There is a maze, though a forgiveable one since you don't have to map your way through it. In fact, there is a nice time-paradox puzzle smushed in there that is reminiscent of the one from Sorceror, though not nearly as cruel. But how you get through the maze is not so good. There are, in fact, a number of poorly-motivated puzzles, leaving you floundering. There are bunches of actions that you have to do just because you can do them; only later do you realize why you need to do them. This is a bad thing.
I see I'm wandering off into the dreaded desert of spoilers without a canteen. I'll give my full exposition of the game's puzzle structure on another page for those of you who have already played the game, or don't mind puzzles being spoiled. For the rest of you: most of the non-logical puzzles do have clues built into them, connections that should help you realize what's going on. Unfortunately, it's easy to miss those clues once you decide that many of the puzzles aren't motivated or clued sufficiently.
That's a shame, really. There are several great puzzles in the games, and it's easy to rush to a walkthrough rather than trusting that the game will give you enough information to solve them. If you don't trust an adventure game to treat you right, you won't be willing to attempt to solve it on your own. Several times Escape from Monkey Island betrays that trust, making it a weaker game.
What makes this even more of a shame is that general puzzle difficulty rises as the game goes on. Early puzzles aren't terribly hard, while some of the later ones are apt to make your brain ooze out your ears. I applaud such design, especially since it's so tough to pull off. Sadly, I expect that by the end many players will be turning to hints and walkthroughs, spoiling the effect. And to be honest, I can't blame them.
Balancing the uneven puzzles is a strong plot. It's paced well and comes to a satisfying conclusion, much to my delight. The endings of the last two Monkey Island games were...not so good. For those who have played the earlier Monkey Island games, there are references galore: Herman Toothrot, Otis, Carla, Meathook, Murray the Demonic Talking Skull, an awfully-familiar banana picker, the huge monkey head...the list goes on and on. None of this knowledge is required to play the game, but without it you will often feel lost. You can play Escape from Monkey Island if you haven't played the previous games, but you will have to nod and smile a lot, as if you've gone to a high-school reunion with your significant other and they spend the entire night making jokes like, "Remember the McFeely Special? Hahahahahaha!" Still, the in-jokes and references don't sink the game if you haven't played the others.
I've just about finished my list of things to talk about. What's left are all of the little touches which make this game shine. Care has been taken to give a final polish to Escape from Monkey Island. From the sight of a drunken parrot to a cup of grogaccino that jitters and vibrates in your inventory, there are plenty of details that stand out. They give you the sense that this is a real world, albeit a wonky one, and that the designers have thought a lot about the game.
I can no longer resist. Below are some of my favorite lines from the game.
- "This is the door to our bedroom. Awwwwwwwww, yeeeeeahhh."
- "No! MY grog!"
- "Can't get enough of my sweet coffee goodness, can ya?"
- "It's like my life is a neverending series of puzzles!"
- "By the invisible hand of Adam Smith!"
(Bonus points to the first person who writes me with who said each of the above line.)
(Note: we have a winner. Winners, actually, since I got two responses one right after the other. Both Eugene Hung and Yossi Horowitz were able to identify the speakers of the above lines.)
If I had to sum up my review in four words, they would be: get this game. No, wait, that's three words. Okay, how about: get this game now. Sure, the usual caveats about "Don't get this if you don't like puzzles" and "Don't get this if the game doesn't sound funny" apply, but truly, this has been the most fun adventure I've played in a while.
Technical aspects: I did a full install, which took 1100 MB of disk space. 1100 MB! Back in my day, you had to type in games by hand! And they had to fit in three bytes of memory! I didn't run into any bugs in the game, though some people have reported problems with earlier or lower-powered 3D video cards.
Recommended computer: 266 MHz CPU, 32 MB of RAM, 4 MB video card with 3D acceleration, 16-bit sound card, 4x CD-ROM drive. Check the LucasArts home page to see if your graphics card is supported.
My computer: Duron 800 MHz, 128 MB of RAM, GeForce 2 MX with 32 MB, SoundBlaster Live Value.
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